Breaking Down the Race for the Final NHL Playoff Spots in Eastern Conference

Nicholas GossCorrespondent IApril 23, 2013

Breaking Down the Race for the Final NHL Playoff Spots in Eastern Conference

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    Now that we know which eight teams will be playing in the Eastern Conference, the only left to be decided is the seedings.

    The New York Rangers clinched a postseason berth with a 4-3 overtime victory against the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, which eliminated the Winnipeg Jets from the playoff race.

Updated Look at the Standings (as of April 25)

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    The following chart shows the five teams still left in the playoff race.

    The Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs have already clinched a playoff spot.

    Washington occupies the third seed in the standings despite having just 52 points because it leads the Southeast Division. The division winners get the top three seeds in the playoffs in both conferences.

    Place

    Team GP PTS
    7th Ottawa Senators
     45 52
    8th New York Rangers
     46 52
    9th Winnipeg Jets
     47 51

New York Rangers

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    Odds They’ll Get In: 93.4 percent 


    Biggest Advantage in the Race: Easy Remaining Schedule

    The Rangers are fortunate to have the easiest remaining schedule (see below) of all the teams still battling for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It's very possible that the Blueshirts will finish the season with six straight wins and challenge for the fifth or sixth seed.

    Date Opponent Notes
    April 25 Carolina Hurricanes

    The Hurricanes are awful on special teams and have a 2-7-1 record in their last 10 games. New York is 2-0 against Carolina this season.

    April 27 New Jersey Devils The Rangers beat the Devils 4-1 on Sunday to knock their rivals out of the playoff race. New Jersey is 2-7-1 in its last 10 games and has averaged just 1.6 goals per game in the month of April.

    Biggest Disadvantage in the Race: Margin for Error

    Despite the loss to the Florida Panthers Tuesday night, the Rangers have been playing solid hockey.  The goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist has been magnificent. It's hard to pick a disadvantage for them in the playoff race, but they don't have a lot of room for error.

    New York is tied with the Senators with 52 points and has a slim one-point edge on the Jets.  The Rangers currently control their own destiny, and this is a situation they must will stay in for the rest of the regular season.

    Prediction: 7th in East, 3rd in Atlantic

Ottawa Senators

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    Odds They’ll Get In: 94.4


    Biggest Advantage in the Race: Playoff Race Experience

    The Senators played well at the end of last season to secure the eighth and final playoff spot even though they were picked by many experts to finish near the bottom of the East standings. This was a good learning experience for many of the Senators' young players, many of whom had never been in a late-season playoff race.

    Despite all of the injuries to key players that Ottawa has dealt with this season, this team still has several veterans (such as captain Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Neil and Chris Phillips) who know what it takes to win games late in the regular season. Their experience will have a positive impact on this team.

    If reigning Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson returns to the lineup after missing two months with an Achilles injury, the Senators' chances of making the playoffs will improve quite a bit. The young star led all defensemen with 78 points last season and skated with the team on Friday (per the team). He could be in the lineup Thursday night against the Capitals.

    Biggest Disadvantage in the Race: Tough Schedule/Small Amount of Rest

    The Senators have lost two straight and will have to play three games in four days to end the season. Fatigue may become a factor for Ottawa this week, who will end the year with seven games in 12 days. Another concern about the remaining schedule is the quality of competition that the Senators will face.

    Date Opponent Notes
    April 25 at Washington Capitals

    This is a huge game for both teams. The winner of this matchup will significantly increase its chances of making the playoffs since both of these clubs have 52 points in the standings. Ottawa is 2-0 against Washington this season, including a 3-1 victory over the Capitals last Thursday.

    April 27 vs. Philadelphia Flyers The Flyers won't make the playoffs but they have won three of their last four games. Philadelphia has a ton of talent and will play hard for the rest of the season, so this won't be an easy game for Ottawa.
    April 28 at Boston Bruins The Senators are 0-2-2 against the Bruins this season. With Boston still fighting for the Northeast Division title, this will likely be an important game for the Bruins.

    Prediction: 8th in East, 4th in Northeast